Home / Industry / Manufacturing /  Government panel restricts quadricycles to commercial use

New Delhi: Car makers in India can breathe a sigh of relief as the government has restricted Bajaj Auto Ltd managing director Rajiv Bajaj’s pet quadricycle project to commercial use.

A government committee headed by the secretary of road transport and highways, Vijay Chhibber, decided on Wednesday that quadricycles will only be used for “intra-city transport within municipal limits", which means these vehicles can’t ply on the highways or be employed for personal use.

Moreover, in order to differentiate quadricycles such as the Bajaj RE60 from cars, the panel said that such vehicles will have to bear a “Q" sign. With regard to safety, Bajaj’s RE60 won’t have to meet crash-testing norms as these don’t exist in Europe for this class of vehicle. They are used in Europe for leisure activities. Emission norms will be the same as those in Europe.

The committee, however, said that any change in the rules regarding quadricyles in Europe would have to be adopted in India with a maximum lag of six months. The European norms are expected to undergo a revision in 2016.

“The idea is not to ruffle feathers in the small-car segment. The quadricycle will not be a competition for the small-car segment. It will be a new category that is being looked at as a replacement for three-wheelers as it is an improved product, seen as much safer. But the rest is for the market to respond," Chhibber said.

Bajaj said he was “delighted" that quadricycles have finally got the government nod, in a response to questions sent by email.

As for being restricted to commercial use, Bajaj said, “Every door opens a crack before it opens wide."

Bajaj had sought government permission for the quadricycle to be sold as a personal vehicle as well.

Bajaj’s RE60 was seen as a direct threat to cars such as Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s M800 and Alto, and Hyundai Motor India Ltd’s Eon. Car makers feared that since Bajaj’s product looks like a car and yet doesn’t qualify as one on security and safety norms, it could pose a threat to their vehicles.

R.C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki, the country’s largest car company by volumes, welcomed the move.

“I don’t have any problem with what the government has come out with. The proposed standards for quadricycles are safer than three-wheelers and their usage is limited to commercial purposes. So, our concerns are addressed," Bhargava said.

Broadly, the industry wanted quadricycles to ply as intra-city transport vehicles with a limited number of registrations every year. It also wanted them to be in one particular colour with a fare meter and clearly marked as a quadricycle. “There’s no justification for this discrimination," Rajiv Bajaj was cited as saying by Mint on 29 April.

The government didn’t consider the demands on colour, fare meters and limited registrations.

“We have listened to arguments of both the parties and have tried to provide a level playing field," said a government official present at the Wednesday meeting where the approval was granted. The official requested anonymity.

Quadricycles will be allowed to carry passengers as well as goods. Those ferrying people have to weigh less than 450kg and can seat four, including the driver. For goods transport, the weight limit is 550kg with seating capacity for two, the committee decided.

“A formal set of rules and regulations for this vehicle category will be up and running in three months’ time," said the official cited above.

Bajaj’s RE60 is powered by a water-cooled, 216cc, single-
cylinder engine enclosed in a metal-polymer monocoque body. The vehicle weighs 400kg, has a turning radius of 3.5m, and can reach a top speed of 70km per hour. It can seat the driver and three passengers and run 35km on a litre of petrol.

Bajaj Auto unveiled a concept passenger car with an expected price of $3,000 at the 2008 Delhi Auto Expo. The company had originally partnered with Renault-Nissan for the ultra-low-cost (ULC) car project that was scheduled to hit Indian roads in 2011, but was delayed due to differences between the partners on pricing and design, according to a 25 September 2012 news report by the Press Trust of India.

Renault-Nissan wanted to price the car at around $2,500, while Bajaj insisted on lowering the overall cost of ownership.

The RE60 is the product of the ULC programme. It’s not clear whether Renault-Nissan is still part of this programme.

In September 2012, the Business Standard newspaper reported that Renault-Nissan had shelved the small-car project with Bajaj.

The RE60 is being plugged as an alternative to the autorickshaw, with four wheels instead of three. Bajaj has invested 550 crore in developing the platform and creating the capacity to produce 5,000 vehicles every month.

The committee wants to ensure that current norms for three-wheelers in the country are not diluted.

“Certain norms for three-wheelers that are superior than the European norms for quadricyles will be included. Requirement for registering the vehicle, driver licence, hard-top vehicle, first aid and fire extinguisher, etc., will be a part of the norms for quadricyles in India," Chhibber said.

Reacting to this, Rajiv Bajaj said, “Indian two-wheeler and three-wheeler norms have always been ahead of Europe. It is Indian cars that shamefully lag Europe."

Declining to comment on the prospects of RE60 in the commercial space, he said, “It’s a free market; consumers will decide wisely as they always do."

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